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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Attraction Research

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Boyfriend on Dating Sites | Romantic Attraction Research

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Boyfriend on Dating Sites

Romantic Attraction Research

My boyfriend cannot stay off dating websites. He’s making profiles. He never goes through with meeting the girls or even talking on the phone, but he states he has a problem. What can I do to help him?

Without knowing him like you do and in the absence of all of the details about his behavior, I can’t say for sure what’s motivating him or what anyone can do about it. Notice I said “anyone” not just “you.” I understand and appreciate that you want to help him, but my question to you would be “what’s he doing to help himself?”  I mean, was he using his real name on these sites?  How did you find out he was using them?  And how do you know who has spoken to and who he has met or not?

His behavior doesn’t sound exactly spontaneous; it sounds planned and it sounds like you simply caught him trying to step out on you -- repeatedly.  But, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment and say he has a “problem.”  That problem could be many things:

1) He has very poor self-esteem, so he tries to feel better about himself by trying to score with other women.

2) He is a serial dater and has been for some time (maybe before even meeting you). He just loves the “thrill of the hunt” and being a womanizer is a pastime -- a convenient form of entertainment.

He has some unspoken or unmet romantic or sexual need that’s not being met in your relationship, so he’s fulfilling it to the extent that he can by engaging in fantasy relationships.

4) He’s ambivalent about your relationship. Perhaps he’s feels trapped or wants out. In either case, he frequents dating sites to get a sense of freedom (trying to see what he’s missing) or he wants you to find out and leave him (so he can be free without having to be the one to break up).

Chances are it’s one of these four. The best thing for you to do is to ask him point blank, in a non-accusatory tone, whether or not he wants to be with you. If he says “yes,” then ask the follow-up question, “What are you willing to do to be with me?”   Hopefully his answer will be to completely stop his behavior and show loyalty, passion and interest in being with you. Then, his subsequent behavior will reveal his true intentions.

There might not be anything anyone can really do for him, but there’s definitely something you can do for yourself… find someone who’ll treat you with respect.  Even if he gives you all the answers you want to hear, I think you’ll agree that in the back of your mind you’ll always be untrusting of what he does when you’re not around. As long as reasons for such thoughts persist, you’ll never have a relationship that’ll give you what you want and need.

I’m wondering if any research has been done which can tell us what percentage, approximately, of our romantic attractions to others are reciprocated?  Can I bank on approximately 30% of my crushes over my lifetime being reciprocated?  I have searched the internet for some kind of scientific study on this, and can't find any answers to my question.

That’s one cool question, but no, I don’t there has been any real research on that issue. However, we can make some guesses. First, a research study I published with colleagues in the North American Journal of Psychology found that online daters are rather skeptical (or realistic, you be the judge) when it comes to believing that online matches will be satisfactory when met offline. If we extend that to offline matchmaking and dating, then we can assume that daters are somewhat picky in determining whether someone is or will be “romantically acceptable.” Let’s call this the Pickiness Factor (PF). You should expect that everyone’s PF is different, and that the amount of reciprocated crushes first depends on the likelihood that you will have a crush on someone. Your likelihood of having a crush is related to your PF. The pickier you are, the less likely you’ll have a crush on any given individual. So far, so good.

Now the second issue is whether someone will reciprocate your affection. Let’s assume for simplicity sake that the reciprocation issue is driven by “romantic compatibility,” which in turn is dependent upon how similar you are with a love interest across a number of important personal and relationship variables. The similarity model of romantic attraction is simplistic to say the least, but it’s a decent beginning -- and it’s certainly a better predictor than chance alone. That said, we can assume that the more similar a couple is, the more likely the couple will experience shared attraction and have shared happiness. Again, so far, so good.

Now as a fun exercise (no scientific validity presumed), let’s calculate how PF and romantic compatibility interact to produce “matches” at different PF and compatibility levels. Have a look at the graph below, which is based on simulated data:

This simulation shows that the lower your PF the more likely you’ll find a happy match (a figure as theoretically high as 90% chance), whereas the higher your PF the less likely you’ll find a happy match (a figure as low as 1%).  So, the lesson is that how fickle and picky you are probably has a lot to do with whether you’ll have a crush and whether that love interest will return affection. The bottom line is that a person can expect their percentage of reciprocated crushes to be directly correlated with how picky they are about romantic prospects in the first place. People’s actual experiences will vary. So aside from conducting a large-scale, random survey of the general population that asks about reciprocated crushes, the best way to know is to ask yourself, “How picky am I?”  Your honest response will probably give you a rough -- but not completely off the chart -- idea.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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